Category Archives: avignon

Return to Avignon

Space Invader on the city wall in Avignon.

Space Invader on the city wall in Avignon.

France honored my birthday yesterday by reconnecting me with the internet! It certainly makes life easier to be able to access email and train schedules from my room. I met up with friends throughout the birthday day and it was laid back and exactly the way I wanted to spend it. I don’t really like to be the certain of attention, but still like to mark the day in some fashion.

Continuing with my travel posts, we have another Avignon visit. The photos in this post are going to be Space Invader-centered, so I apologize in advance for that.

Flowers for sale in Avignon.

Flowers for sale in Avignon.

This was my parents’ first day in Provence and the weather was gorgeous. We started by going to the indoor market where we met up with fellow assistant Kat and her parents. It was awesome, because we got to team up as co-guides for the day. After appreciating the cheese, olives, bizarre meat displays, and produce of the market, we decided to buy a few calissons and a decadent provençal chocolate bar.  Calissons are a specialty of Aix-en-Provence, but can be found throughout Provence and even in the area around Valence. They are basically a little almond-shaped candies made with citrus fruit paste topped with white icing, and the ones we bought were quite delicious. After that snack, we had lunch at a cafe and I ate a chevre chaud salad, while others in my group were more adventurous and got a fish dish that included a few escargots on the side. I think my parents both sampled them, but I played the vegetarian card and didn’t try them.

Space Invader on the Palais des Papes.

Space Invader on the Palais des Papes.

After lunch, we went to the Palais des Papes. It was a lot more crowded than last time I visited, when its massive rooms were absolutely empty. I skipped the tedious audioguide this time and tried to take in more of the historical information and architecture. After our tour of the palace, we visited the church next door that has the graves of a couple of popes and then we walked over to the Pont d’Avignon. It was incredibly windy as usual, although much less than the other time I went on the bridge and I didn’t feel like I was in too much danger of plunging into the Rhône. Although that has to happen to some poor tourist at least once a year, right? Google isn’t helping me with this theory.

Space Invader on the streets of Avignon.

Space Invader on the streets of Avignon.

Kat’s family had to start their drive back to her town, while my parents and me spent the rest of our day in Avignon drinking coffee and wandering the streets. We ended the day with sandwiches at a bakery before catching the train back to Valence. I think I’ve visited Avignon more than any other city in Provence and although I might have seen enough of the Palais des Papes and probably don’t need to dance again on the bridge, its streets and ambiance haven’t gotten old yet.

Arles

A very provencal street in Arles.

A very provençal street in Arles.

The second week of February break, my friend Randall, who is an English assistant in Bordeaux and also studied in Clermont-Ferrand the same semester as me, came to visit Valence. The first day he was visiting we decided to take the train down to Provence and see Arles, formerly a major Roman city and probably best known now as inspiration for Vincent van Gogh.

Les Arenes dArles.

Les Arènes d'Arles.

The biggest monument in the city is les Arènes d’Arles, a Roman amphitheater built in 80 AD. While it once was home to gladiator fights and then later got covered in houses, it has  been restored and hosts bullfights. I’m not much for bullfights; I don’t think the bull is ever really given a fair chance and it seems more like a formalized slaughter. But, the amphitheater is very cool and although there was no historical information in the monument, it was fun to walk through it and climb to the top for a view of the city.

Inside

Inside Les Arènes d'Arles.

Les Arènes d’Arles was also the first of several van Gogh sites on our visit. He painted a crowd in the amphitheater at a bullfight in his piece  Les Arènes. Some people think that van Gogh got the idea to cut his ear off from the bullfights, where the bull ultimately has its ear cut off after the bullfighter is victorious. Apparently, van Gogh did it only weeks after seeing a bullfight, after in a way being defeated by Gaugin. But correlation is not causation, right?

LEspace van Gogh.

L'Espace van Gogh.

We got a map from the tourism office, but we mostly wandered around. Arles has many picturesque streets and for the first time in a long time, the sun was shining and it was warm in France. The next attraction we stumbled upon was l’Espace van Gogh, which was the hospital where van Gogh was taking after he had a fight with Paul Gaugin (with whom he was living) and cut off his ear. While he was in the hospital, he painted this courtyard in a piece called The Courtyard of the Hospital in Arles. The “Yellow House” where van Gogh had his studio during his year in Arles was destroyed in WWII from bombing.

Cafe on the Place du Forum.

Cafe on the Place du Forum.

Another van Gogh site was the Cafe on the Place du Forum, which he painted in Cafe Terrace at Night. The Place du Forum is named after the Roman forum that used to stand there and a couple pillars from the original structure still remain. Being that it’s not really the tourism season, the Cafe (now called the Cafe Van Gogh) was closed, which is why there is absolutely no one there in this picture. Interesting that Arles loves van Gogh so much now, but in 1889 there was actually a petition circulated in the town to get him evicted. He went to an asylum in nearby St-Rémy later that year.

Obelisk in Arles.

Roman obelisk in Arles.

Our amphitheater ticket also got us into the Thermae of Constantine, a Roman bath, and we spent some more time walking around the center of town and eventually got a coffee.

Space Invader in Avignon, in front of the Palais de Pape.

Space Invader in Avignon, in front of the Palais des Papes.

The sun was still out, so we took the train a short distance to Avignon and walked past the Palais des Papes and to the Pont d’Avignon. I spotted a new Space Invader, shown here. Apparently there are still more invaders to discover in Avignon.

I’m back at work and teaching The Very Hungry Caterpillar again. I’ve started to get more serious about finding a job after my contract here ends, but I’m still not sure where I’ll end up.

Sur le pont d’Avignon…

I’m a little behind on blogging. I’m back from my short Paris excursion, but still haven’t written about Avignon or the strike last week.  I’m busily preparing for my Berlin trip next week and trying to learn a few German phrases.

Last Wednesday I went with Sarah, an English assistant working in Privas, to Avignon for the day. You might remember that I visited Avignon once before, but didn’t get to see much. This time we took the train in the morning and after getting a coffee, first went to les Palais des Papes, the former residence of the Pope in France. As I mentioned in my previous Avignon post, the Pope was in France for around 70 years due to a group of Cardinals who tried to take the authority from Rome. Well, that’s oversimplifying, but considering the actual audioguide tour of les Palais des Papes didn’t go into details, I’ll let you do your own research.

The audioguide was exceptionally boring, focusing mostly on the vaulted ceilings of every single room and other architectural details. Yes, the architecture is beautiful, stunning even. But isn’t what makes the building significant the history? There isn’t much inside of the building as all of the furniture and decorations are gone, leaving vast halls filled only with tiny space heaters and clusters of informational placards. It was good in a way, drawing attention to the gorgeous traces of frescoes and the overwhelming vastness of the place. And it is huge, a labyrinth of rooms. You’ll be walking down a narrow corridor that someone a little taller than me would have to stoop in and then suddenly you’re in a dining hall big enough to house a family of giraffes.

The palace was expanded several times under different popes, which is why it can be a little like the Winchester Mystery House. There weren’t too many visitors being that it was the middle of the week in off-season, so I can imagine the experience being different with a large crowd. Despite the cold, that is one advantage to being in France now. Even the most crowded tourist places have about half of the people they would in June. And scarves are my favorite accessory, so it all works in my favor. Although the wind can be a little much, as we found when we went back outside.

The top of the palace felt like there was an Arctic wind, but it was only the infamous Mistral. I noticed there were potted plants that had blown over in one of the courtyards and I wondered why they even bothered. Both times I’ve been to Avignon have felt like a windy Oklahoma City day. We had a little of an embarrassing time trying to find the palace’s exit, which was hidden behind some construction. After escaping, we had sandwiches at the Place de l’Horloge before going over to the other main Avignon destination: le Pont d’Avignon.

You probably know the song or at least the melody: “Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse..” (On the bridge of Avignon, we dance there, we dance there…). The actual name of the bridge is the Pont St-Bénézet, named for a young shepherd called Bénézet who had a vision to build the bridge and the story goes that he convinced the locals by lifting a large rock by himself. Due to a flood in 1669, only 4 of the original 22 arches are left, but you can walk over all of them (or dance) and see the bridge’s chapel where Bénézet was buried. It was incredibly windy, but we made it to the end of the bridge and managed some dancing. A boring audioguide was also included in this tour, although it did have the song on it which was nice. There was a really bizarre part of the bridge’s small museum where you could remix the song and watch silhouettes of people dancing to a “hip” version of it.

We walked around the city a while before taking the train back to Valence. I was so glad I had gotten my hair cut to my shoulders the day before so the dense tangles I had to brush out from the wind were minimal.